‘The Daily Show’ missed an opportunity

Editor’s Note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Story highlights

As a black man, Gene Seymour thrilled Trevor Noah tapped for "Daily Show." But in service of fair play he asks: Why not a woman for the job?

Jessica Williams, Samantha Bee would have been good candidates. When will women finally get their shot at late night?

CNN  — 

As a person-of-color, African-American, veteran minority journalist and longtime enthusiast of all things “Daily Show,” I am of course as happy, proud and thrilled as the wife of a successful Apollo astronaut over the impending ascension of Trevor Noah, the biracial comedian from South Africa, to Jon Stewart’s anchor chair on what’s believed by many to be the most trusted half-hour of news and information in America.

As a person who believes in fair play and equal opportunity for all, I am also moved to wonder when a woman will get the chance to preside over a talk show after sunset?

Gene Seymour

Look. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. After generations of near-to-total invisibility on mass media airwaves, it’s bracing to find a whole one-hour block of high-profile cable television infotainment anchored by men who look like me.

Indeed, in pushing forth both Noah and Larry Wilmore, the writer, comic and erstwhile National Black Correspondent for “The Daily Show,” to preside over both halves of Comedy Central’s much-coveted 11 p.m.-to-midnight bloc, Stewart is acknowledging what the mainstream of the country truly is: i.e. not as pale-faced as it once thought it was.

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And so far, Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show,” which premiered earlier this year as a replacement for the very different “Daily Show” companion once hosted by Stephen Colbert, is gradually establishing its own identity as an equally cheeky hybrid of sketch satire and celebrity forum with its own multicultural flavor.

Still, one does wonder what happened to the groundswell of support building among “Daily Show” constituents for Jessica Williams, a three-year veteran of the show and an early favorite for Stewart’s spot after he announced last month he was leaving. Williams, who is black, tweeted back to her supporters her grateful opinion that she was “extremely under-qualified for the job.”

Maybe, but what about Samantha Bee? She’s the “most senior correspondent” for “The Daily Show” and is taking her penchant for performance artistry and provocation to TBS, where she’ll create her own satiric news franchise. Her track record bodes well for her prospects there. But it’s difficult to find any evidence that she was considered a Stewart successor – though her announcement that she was leaving the show came a month after Stewart’s.

Besides Bee? No one, least of all those affiliated with Comedy Central, have disclosed any candidates besides Noah. There was even less buzz about the Stewart opening than Colbert’s a year ago, during which time there were many willing to say that now was the time to finally give a woman a shot at late-night TV for the first time since the late Joan Rivers’ Fox Network effort, “The Late Show” came in 1987– and went in 1988.

And yes, we aren’t neglecting Chelsea Handler, whose “Chelsea Lately” was for seven seasons on the E! Network a bawdier late-night alternative to whatever Letterman, Stewart and others were putting down beyond prime-time. She’s supposed to start streaming a new show through Netflix sometime next year. So one supposes she’s pretty busy.

It will happen, perhaps sooner than one now expects. Look how long it took before Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric were given their shots to anchor evening news broadcasts on ABC and CBS respectively. Hmmm … wonder what they’re doing after 11 p.m. these days.

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